If you owned a business that was gaining 10,000 customers a day, you probably would be hiring additional staff and opening new locations. To retain these clients in the commercial world, you would have to provide excellent service. Time is money, after all.
Yet, in the public world, an entity that is growing at this speed is closing locations and cutting staff. This entity is Social Security.
Many people are frustrated. There used to be local SS offices where you could stop and get many questions answered. But closures were beginning before the pandemic struck. You had to have an appointment, which could take weeks to get.
Andrew Saul, commissioner of Social Security, recently gave an updated report. He said the physical footprint most likely will continue to shrink. SS wants to provide more services online.
It has been reported that 65% of first-time claims for disability benefits are denied. And it has been estimated that 1 million people are waiting for a disability hearing. Wait times have been estimated at up to 600 days.
The system needs to find a way to process legitimate claims quicker. Social Security also must recognize that many seniors are not as computer savvy as younger Americans.
Social Security will be facing a funding issue in only 14 years. From the start, SS has been a program in which current workers fund the benefits for those receiving checks. While Baby Boomers were working, this was not much of an issue. With 10,000 of them turning 65 every day, the percentage of workers to retirees is shrinking. Actuarially, this – combined with a longer life expectancy – is challenged the funding model.
We faced a similar situation in 1985. Just two years before Social Security would have had to make benefit cuts, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill reached an agreement. That was when the full retirement age was gradually raised to 67. The contribution rate was increased and up to 50% of Social Security income became taxable.
With 2035 getting closer, Washington will have to reach a compromise. It is projected that without these changes, beneficiaries may receive only 79% of promised benefits because of the ratio of incoming tax revenue vs. promised benefits. The pandemic had a negative impact on this situation because unemployed workers do not pay into the system.
When these discussions do take place, some politicians will suggest that benefits are increased. As any responsible family knows, you do not increase spending when you have a budget shortfall. We cannot continue increasing the deficit.
Maybe some of the almost $2 trillion spent recently could have shored up a benefit that seniors contributed to their whole working lives.
Social Security considers your 35 largest earning years when calculating your retirement benefit. You and your employer paid these taxes. Hard-working Americans deserve to know that their promised benefits will be there.
Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”
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